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Monday, 28 December 2009

Why write? Why blog? Why not!

A couple of weeks ago a friend, who had a quick look at one of my blog posts, said "Yeah, it's really good. I really enjoyed reading it, but how can you be bothered to write all that stuff?" Well actually that friend said "arsed" but she meant it kindly. :)

Over the washing up this morning this question set me to thinking 'why' do I do it? Why spend ages writing up aspects of my life and interests and supporting them with photos and share them?

I have to go back to childhood to make sense of it all. I was fortunate enough to be born a creative child, always drawing, painting and building fantastical things out of Lego and Plasticine. Not a good combination Lego and Plasticine! My cousin Jennifer would come round and baby sit me and read me nice horror stories before I went to sleep.

I could be very creative and recall vividly imagining the scary faces in the curtains and patterned wallpaper to be somewhat demonic and cause me nightmares. Thanks for that support Jennifer. 'The Famous Five go devil worshipping' was my fave.

My own prefered reading matter as a wee kiddy would be the latest Dalek annual or Valiant comic or anything to do with the Man From Uncle television series.

Christmas dreams realised.

When I joined the Wolf Cubs and the Boy Scouts I was encouraged to write up log books about the Scout camps (which I loved doing and would kill to see a copy of what I did back then) .We were also encouraged to be independent and gain badges as part of the Scouting system. I got the Collectors badge, Artist badge, Campers badge, Camp Cook badge (yeah very funny), Camp Warden badge and Entertainer badge. Early signs of growing interests.  Now, some kids may have left with  both arms full of badges, but looking back, I felt that I kinda specialised. The Camp Cook badge meant cooking and preparing a meal - a proper meal - on an altar fire, made up of rugged chunks of limestone, in the middle of winter, in a sheep shit strewn field and a bitter wind disturbing your woggle. You won't see Gordon Ramsey doing that! Wimp!

No doubt, I would have written all about the experience in the Eagle Patrol log book and patiently drawn pictures to illustrate the log. These endeavours of mine would have been read by the leaders and other members of the troop, and praised. There is the key for me, to write or amuse/entertain and be rewarded with praise. I have no doubt that as a teenager my humour would have been very corny and slightly surreal as I was a big fan of Monty Python and The Goodies. I used to like to draw little cartoons as well, and even imagined that one day I might be a cartoonist.

The fact that the Scout troop went to Belgium one year, in a historical period of time when travelling outside the UK was a huge adventure, really sparked off my creative writing. I was put in charge of writing the log!

La Fresnaye Scout Centre. Dworp. Belgium

For years, after I had left the Scout Movement, I would continue to write my own travelogues based on the foreign holidays I had started to enjoy. I no longer have these documents, alas, but again, I would love to look back and see what it was I wrote about and would be especially keen to see if foreign foods came into the equation. They most likely did and, being a less sophisticated self in my twenties, it is probable that I just made note of what the food was, and if I had enjoyed it.

'I had squid for tea in the Athine Hotel in Athens. It was chewy but nice. I tried some pistachio nuts. I really can't get enough of them. I got drunk on Ouso.My head hurts.' That sort of thing. And , I'll have you know, it would have all been handwritten as I didn't have a typewriter until my thirties. Doing what I am doing now (typing on a laptop whilst on the internet) would have seemed unbeliveable.

So, this habit continued for years and, being a devoted Francophile, I still write long journals about my vacations in France. Nowadays, the journal will include a lot about food & markets and the local wines & beers and trips to vineyards etc. I do these just for fun and, although they are time consuming, I love to be able to read them again after the event and remind myself of some great times and what I have learnt along the way. I like the fact that I get them printed off and they are paper reading material too. I have learnt to keep all reciepts and other paper items with details on as a reminder of fine details and this, along with the fact that I take hundreds of photos, enriches the writing.

Since I got divorced about six years ago I have been fortunate to have a lot of free time to dedicate myself to writing and performing in plays and enjoying my photography hobby. I have also had the opportunity to research the decades I have lived through - more socially than politically - and have made some inroads in documenting my life story and write about it. The picture below is of Figgy's Fair (1956 to 1971) and Hair Today (1971 to 1989). I have yet to write about my University years.

Figgy was my nick-name at school.

Creating this record through the medium of writing helps me to understand myself more and the work I put into the research has paid off in terms of me getting several paid articles published in the Derby Evening Telegraph's Bygones paper. It is quite a lot of fun seeing one's life as something of interest to share with the folk of Derby. The past earnings for the writing were literally a bonus, too.

There are five more articles additional to these two photos.

When I was living in Derby and was acting with the amateur drama group, Derby Theatre In The Round, I was encouraged to write poems about the funny aspects of the production we were performing. These would be performed by myself at the after show parties. I have written other poetry over the years but it isn't something that I indulge in much anymore. Saying that, I have found, on a few occasions, the act of writing poetry very theraputic, in particular, as an adult, dealing with the pre-mature death of my birth mother at the tender age of nine.

Nottingham Trent University Clifton site.

I left Derby in the late 1980s and began a new phase of my life at Nottingham Polytechnic, soon to become Nottingham Trent University. Doing a degree in Performance Art and the diverse nature of the course, meant that I was dealing with, and challenging, the English language critically and practically, all the time.

During the three years study I was constantly working with other creative people and writing performance pieces for all manner of styles of performance as well as my dissertations. Naively I thought that the professors and tutors would teach me like back at my senior school. That was a long time ago and a fifteen year gap in my education. There was a style of teaching, but a lot of the writing and research skills were self taught or gleaned from working with the students who were a year above you and more experienced.

The degree led to me writing my own performance pieces alone or in collaboration with other gifted Creative Arts students/practitioners and testing them out live in front of a critical audience. This craft I have continued to persue, including my recent adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. See acting blog.

A scary beast.

In my first year of the degree, the faculty encouraged us students to learn how to use computers. They were the way forward, apparently. We are talking 1988/9 here and I was terrified of the computer and all those bright green letters on the screen. How times have changed. I could have done with the internet back then to do my research! Oh those hours spent in the library.

On January 8th 2010 it will be my first blogiversary for this blog. My life has been enriched tremendously since I decided to write a seperate blog dedicated to food and the intitial premise of writing about coffee and tea shops and cafes in Nottingham. How things have grown and my writing style improved and the adventures I've had throughout this year in blogland and in the real world. Or are they the same? I'm still without an income or job, but I have made some wonderful friends through Mug of Strong Tea and a Chip Butty. Why do I write? Why do I blog?

Answer: Because I love it and because of you, my readers. Thankyou for your great support and friendship everyone. Keep blogging and writing expressively. It's great!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas curry.

Yesterday I baked myself a loaf of bread and the house smelt great of warm yeast and flour. I have found that home baked bread lasts so much longer than bread bought from the supermarket.

This morning I enjoyed some delicious coffee and treated myself to some flaky croissants with butter for breakfast. A good way to start Christmas Day.

The preparation for my non traditional Christmas dinner started yesterday (Christmas Eve) with the decision to cook myself a curry for my festive lunch. I had previous purchased a joint of topside from the local butchers (in case I went traditional) and sliced the joint into thick steaks and then cubes. I then added a stick of cinnamon and some little balls of allspice and cloves and a piece of star anise donated from my good neighbour. Half a bottle of Cotes de Rhone red wine went into the bowl and I left the mix to marinade in the fridge overnight. The other half of the bottle of wine forced itself down my throat. Well, it might go off otherwise.

I got up early this morning and drained the beef cubes, taking out the spices before frying the meat in a wok and draining. Separately I quickly fried some red onions until soft and slightly brown with a small amount of chopped ginger and chopped and seeded chilli peppers.

The whole mix was added to three big jars of Patak’s Jalfresi curry sauce that includes coconut, coriander, tomato sauce and sweet peppers. I intended to freeze some for further use. The casserole was very close to being full. I warmed it through in a pre-heated oven for an hour on a medium heat and ate it with some simple boiled rice. Certainly, it was lovely and hot for a cold winter’s day but the beef was a tiny bit chewy. I don’t know if it was the cooking method or the grade of meat. I wasn’t disappointed, however.

I’m now enjoying a tempting box of Sarjeants’ hand- made chocolates. A gift from my neighbour. Speaking of my neigbours, they are appearing on Jack Dee and Jo Brand's Christmas show on Radio 2 today in a piece about people who are spending Christmas apart. Her new husband is currently in Papau New Guinea.

Hope that you are all having a good Christmas. xxx Leave those chocs alone you!!! They're mine!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Obsessed moi?

"Come in. Welcome. Do sit down if you can find a space. Sorry about the mess. Mince pie? Cup of tea? Something stronger? Forgive me if I seem distracted. I'm waiting for the chaps in the white coats."

'Chef's are they?'

"Mais non, mon ami, mais non. The other 'clinical' white coats, and the kinky backward facing jacket - funny sleeves, You understand? I called them a few minutes ago. It's for the best, don't you know?"

'But why? You always seem so happy Phil. Take a deep breath, relax and put your feet up. Talk when you are ready'

"I think that I am officially obsessed because who else goes around photographing their food before they eat it; writing down snippets of tv cookery shows as they watch them; has a secret stash of glossy food, French and travel magazines under the table and just moved the entire living room furniture so that he could photograph his bookshelves as proof? And you think that's the end of it? Ach, gar nicht meine freunden."

"I confess too that I hang around cafes and restaurants and 'borrow' their menus to write to complete strangers about my visits. Blogging they call it. Sometimes I can spend hours choosing a particular word or turn of phrase just to make those self same strangers, known as 'commentors', laugh or learn something. They blog too! I've seen them! Let them deny it!  Some even taunt me with their glitzy-glam French lives. Un vrai cauchemar"

" From time to time, of an evening mostly, I force myself to go on stage and put my life in mortal danger saying other people's words and doing other people's actions, night after blessed night. It's like burping up a very hot curry plus applause at the end and less visits to the toilet."

The secret stash revealled!

"There's more. Oh yes, there is certainly more. Upstairs, I have even more books. It's like a crazy library with a bed.In front of me, as I speak, I can see a double shelf full of dvds mostly in foreign tongues and a whole collection of Rick Stein's dvds."

"One of these Stein dvds is my great undoing. I hardly dare mention it's name for I know that it shall claim me and force me,yet again, to watch it for many hours, with wine to hand. The bastard has played this evil trick on me over twenty times already. It all starts with the wibbly BBC2 logo and soundbite and then the wretchedly catchy theme tune. It's French Odyssey time and it has me snared, oh so gently snared, sucking me in to its garlicy grip. I know it backwards. Chalky won't go to the vet.. Rick has to leave him back in the UK. But Chalky is no more of this earth... and on-on -on! Is there no stopping it? "

"No! I love it!!!!  Je l'aime! I demand to have those French markets and idyllic meals with nice foodie people and drinking ruby red wine from French maidens bras n' stuff. Ahem. Don't get me started on the drink please. I've a barge to steer and it's a long way to the Med. If only Chalky were here."

"Now the latest thing is going to see the film Julie and Julia and then buying the book. I can't put the bloody thing down and keep laughing like a loon well into the night. Aaaaaaah! Will it all ever end? Please just truss me up like a corn fed chicken and get me out of here!"

Serious bit.

Wet myself bit.

Bust a gut bit.

"I need help!!!! Si, Dave, Rick, Delia,Gordon,Nigella, Hugh! Dedene, Emily, Guy, Marian, French Fancy,Janette, Gail's Man, Cheryl, Dean, Thérèse-Marie, Karen and Ken. Help me!!! Please!"

 "Mince pie anyone? Now what was I saying? Well can't stop, blogging to do. Merry Christmas all."